MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- “The lunatic fringe of running.”
That’s one unofficial motto which helps describe the lively and welcoming atmosphere of the World Hash House Harriers, an international network of people who band together simply for a good time.
The organization bases its meetings around “hash” runs, where a hare, the lead runner, leaves a trail on the ground for the hounds, or the rest of the party, to follow and attempt to catch him or her. Although each hash is competitive, “hashers” go for fun and make time after each race to socialize with one another.
Hashing began in the late 1930s in Malaysia and now more than 350 Hash House Harrier chapters exist in the U.S. alone, and thousands are registered around the world including three in Antarctica, according to the Global Trash Hash House Harriers Web site.
Although each chapter is slightly different, all follow a basic set of shared rules but may have their own chapter traditions.
It’s quite possible people have seen their chalk or flour marks and not even realized it. A chalk arrow on the ground, a circle with a crosshair in the middle, an arrow with three lines through it, three parallel lines or the letters “BT” are all signs hashers have passed through an area.
“Hash runs are a great way to get outdoors, get some fresh air, exercise and meet new people,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Ruffo, Headquarters Battalion operations chief, and a member of the local Twentynine Palms chapter, 69 Palms Hash House Harriers, or 69 PH3, for short. “I would not call it a club in the typical sense, because there are no restrictions on members, but we still meet and have a good time.
“It not about running, it’s about having fun and meeting people,” added Ruffo, who has stuck with hash runs since first trying it four years ago in Okinawa, Japan.
For Staff Sgt. Kevin Choate, supply officer, Delta Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, who confesses running outside of his normal physical training is not his strong point, the results of hashing are evident in his Marine Corps physical fitness test scores.
“Hashing helps me run when I don’t want to, and you don’t always have to run,” said the 29-year-old Abbeville, La., native. “Since I started hashing I’ve taken about a minute off of my run time. It’s not bad at all.
“This can definitely be counted as good PT [physical training],” continued Choate, who helped revive the Twentynine Palms chapter. “If done right, it can be really good. The trails we run usually go three to five miles. You could even do this for small-unit PT like on a squad size.”
Ruffo said he agrees the hashes are a good form of PT because it breaks the monotony of a run when it’s not just running a mile down the road and back.
“It’s something that fits with the saying, ‘Don’t knock it until you try it,’” said Choate. “It’s something you have to try because hashing is definitely that.”
• One person must be the hare and lay trail. They leave 13 minutes ahead of the pack.
• Lay trail to clearly lead your hounds to the finish, but confuse them enough so you get there first.
• All marks must be in line-of-sight of each other, but can be creatively placed in shadows or other not-so-obvious locations.
• Arrows with three hash marks through them mean “true trail,” or the real way to follow.
• A circle with a cross through the middle is an intersection, which means a change of direction and the next arrow or mark is within line-of-sight.
• An arrow with no marks means it’s a shortcut, which could be quicker unless it leads you to a “bad trail” mark, three hashes or the letters “BT.” Bad trail means you must go back and find true trail in another direction.
• When the hares are nearing the end of their trail, they mark the traditional words “BEER NEAR” roughly 1/4 of a mile before the finishing point.
• If the hounds catch the hare, the hare buys drinks. If the hare wins, the hounds buy.